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Poinsettia Care

Poinsettia Care

Our dazzling poinsettias are rolling off the shelves at Groovy Plants Ranch, and we’re getting plenty of questions about how to keep them looking healthy through the holiday season. Some serious fans even want to know about growing them beyond New Year’s Day. So, read on to get all your questions answered plus learn a few surprising facts about this iconic holiday plant.

How much light do poinsettias need?

Poinsettias need bright light, so place them near a south or southeast. When entertaining, you can temporarily move them to serve as a table centerpiece. During the season, avoid places where temperatures fluctuate. Fireplaces, space heaters and heat ducts will quickly dry out the plants. Poinsettias also are cold sensitive, so keep them away from entries and take care when transporting them as gifts to friends and family. Ideally, wrap them in paper for the trip and don’t stop to run errands. Freezing temperatures will zap poinsettias.

How often do you water poinsettias?

 

Poinsettias should not be allowed to dry out to the point their leaves wilt and curl. At the same time, poinsettias don’t like to constantly sit in water, or their roots will rot. To check for dryness, stick a finger in the soil to see if the first two inches of soil are dry. You can also check dryness by lifting the pot to see if it is lightweight. If so, it’s time to water. To water, take the pots to the sink. Remove any decorative foil and set the plant in sink. Water the plant thoroughly until water comes out the bottom hole. Allow the plant to fully drain in the sink then return the plant to its original place. Poinsettias don’t need to be fertilized during the holiday season.

How do you say “poinsettia”? 

Both, pronunciations – poin-set-uh or poin-set-eeya – are okay with us. We also love learning that the plant was named after the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, who brought the plant to the United States in the 1820s. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima. In the U.S., the plants became a holiday hit in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to Paul Ecke Jr. and his pioneering ways to grow and mass-market them among greenhouse growers across the country. In 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives even honored Ecke by naming Dec. 12 National Poinsettia Day. Today, poinsettias are the top-selling holiday plant with national sales of $153 million according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture reports. Check out this CBS Sunday Morning feature for more on the plant’s fascinating history.

Are poinsettia leaves poisonous?

Don’t believe what you hear. Poinsettias absolutely are not poisonous! In fact, the Ohio State University conducted a study in 1971 that debunks the common myth. Researchers fed rats high doses (the equivalent of 500 poinsettias leaves for a 50-lb child), and findings showed the high doses didn’t kill the rats or even dent their appetites. Still, we don’t recommend snacking on poinsettia leaves, since we hear they taste yucky and are hard to digest.

What makes poinsettias red? Poinsettias have colorful bracts which are actually leaves not flowers. In their native Mexico and Central America, poinsettias grow like shrubs and turn red in response to shorter winter days. In the wild, these colorful bracts help attract insects to the plant’s tiny yellow flowers in the center of the bracts. After pollination, the colorful bracts will even drop. We can’t stop watching this time-lapse video showing the bracts’ color change at a University of New Hampshire greenhouse.

How many kinds of poinsettias are there?

Today, there are more than 100 poinsettia varieties. While red reigns as the most popular color, there are plenty of other color choices in candy-cane pink, elegant white, deep burgundy, Thanksgiving orange and even multi-colors. Some are even variegated, speckled, marbled or ruffled. Our team favorite -- ‘Tapestry’ – is a real showstopper with its cherry bracts and gray-green leaves with creamy edges. 

What do I do with the poinsettias after the holidays? Most of our customers grow poinsettias as a seasonal plant and toss them on the compost pile after the holidays. However, a few die-hards welcome the challenge of growing them year-round. If you dare to try, here are a few guidelines:

  1. After the holidays, grow the poinsettia as a houseplant, following the care instructions above and adding a fertilizer every couple of weeks. With bright light and consistent watering, the colorful bracts can be maintained through March. Eventually, the bracts will naturally begin to fade and drop. Don’t worry; it’s no fault of yours.
  2. In April, cut the poinsettia back in half, leaving about six buds. Hold off on fertilizing and reduce watering to every 10 days to give the plant a rest. Also, move it to a cooler location (ideally 60 degrees).
  3. In May, repot the poinsettia to a slightly larger pot and return to a warmer, sunny location. Resume regular watering and fertilizing. The plant will begin to leaf out again.
  4. Once night-time temperatures stay above 50 degrees outside, the poinsettia can be moved outdoors in full sun. They prefer morning light and afternoon shade. Make sure to water especially in the heat of the summer. In mid-July, pinch back new stems by an inch to encourage more branching.
  5. In the September, move the poinsettia back indoors and return to a sunny window. Reduce fertilizer to half strength. To recolor, cover the plant with a cardboard box daily for 14 hours starting in mid-September and continuing until mid-November. Poinsettias should gain color again by Christmas.

For more detailed instructions, watch this pro from the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, England. And, send us pictures of your successes!

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